MISSOULA – With almost half of Montana’s children growing up in low-income households, a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation calls for a coordinated approach to lifting kids out of poverty by delivering high-quality childhood education while simultaneously providing parents with access to job training and career paths that enable them to financially support their families.
The KIDS COUNT policy report, “Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach,” outlines how the public, nonprofit and private sectors must work together to reduce poverty among the 10 million low-income families with young children in the United States.
According to Thale Dillon, director of Montana KIDS COUNT at the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, the report identifies three major challenges facing today’s low-income families: inflexible and unpredictable jobs that do not offer high enough wages to support a family; lack of access to high-quality, reliable early child care and education; and increased stress levels for parents and children. The solution: connect families with the tools and skills that will help them overcome each of these obstacles and, ultimately, build better futures for themselves and their children.
In the U.S. nearly one-third of children age 5 or younger in low-income families have parents with concerns about their development, and the sooner an intervention is put in place, the more effective it is, Dillon said.
The Casey report outlines recommendations to build opportunities for two-generations. Among them:
Create policies that equip parents and children with the income, tools and skills they need to succeed as a family and as individuals. State and federal governments should strengthen policies that expand job-training, educational and career opportunities; adopt policies that give parents more flexibility at work, such as paid time off; increase the Child Tax Credit for low-income parents of very young children; and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to increase the income of noncustodial parents.
* Put common sense into common practice by structuring public systems to respond to the realities facing today’s families. State and federal governments should use interagency commissions and innovation funds to promote collaboration and align policies and programs.
* Use existing child, adult and neighborhood programs and platforms to build evidence for practical pathways out of poverty for families. Early childhood, K-12, home visits, job training and supportive housing programs could partner with one another to connect parents with financial coaching, job-readiness assistance, education and other tools to achieve financial stability, while ensuring their children have access to high-quality care and schooling.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:45
HELENA – Montana State Parks is recruiting new AmeriCorps members for 2015.
These service terms are full-time 44-week, 1,700-hour positions serving at state parks and regional offices across Montana.
AmeriCorps (americorps.gov) is a national service program that engages more than 75,000 Americans each year, nationwide, in service to meet community needs in education, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, public safety, homeland security and more. Funding for AmeriCorps is provided in part by the Corporation for National and Community Service (nationalservice.gov), an independent federal agency, and administered through the Governor’s Office of Community Service (serve.mt.gov).
Montana State Park AmeriCorps members create educational programs, highlight park activities, and develop volunteer opportunities that get more people involved and excited about outdoor recreation. Members can range in age from young adults to retirement, but all members must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED.
“Our AmeriCorps members gain unique experiences and develop a diverse set of skills through their work on educational programming, land improvement, and interaction with the public,” said Jean Placko, program specialist for Montana State Parks AmeriCorps.
1700 hour members also earn an Education Award of $5,645 per year of service, to be used towards a college education or to pay off student loans. Members who are 55 years or older can transfer the Education Award to a child, grandchild or foster child.
All Montana State Parks AmeriCorps members will receive a modest living allowance to help cover incidental costs, such as commuting.
For a full position description and to apply, visit stateparks.mt.gov/parks/AmeriCorps.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:42
Veterans Service Club, a student organization at Montana State University Billings, has re-emerged behind a new push to strengthen veteran support programs.
Matt Rich, a sophomore political science major, has helped champion the efforts to bolster veteran support services and outreach by re-organizing the student club.
“Ultimately, Veterans Service Club is a really good way for student veterans to connect with one another,” Rich said. “The purpose is to provide the same sense of camaraderie that veterans had while in the service.”
The 29-year-old army veteran remembers the isolation he felt when he first enrolled into college after serving seven years in the military, four of which were spent overseas.
As a freshman at Wallace State Community College in Alabama in fall 2010, he was among the surge of veterans returning home from wars in Iraq in Afghanistan and utilizing the enhanced GI Bill. College was the first step in his plan to reshape his life.
But the transition from combat to civilian life proved to be difficult, let alone transitioning back into a classroom, Rich said.
“The worst two years of my life were the two just out of the military,” he said. “It was incredibly hard to relate to people. I could pass 100 people in a day, and maybe talk to one person. I didn’t feel like I belonged.”
Rich, who did two tours divided among Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea, wasn’t alone in his plight.
Director of Disability Support and Veteran Services Trudy Carey said it’s common for veterans to find the transition from service to civilian life hard, facing a lot of challenges such as physical, mental and emotional injuries, financial burdens and social adjustments.
“Student veterans are an integral part of the MSU Billings student body,” Carey said, noting there are 234 students receiving veteran benefits.
“It’s important to generate awareness of the challenges they face and provide the resources and support needed to graduate.”
Three semesters into his second-attempt at college, Rich said failing out of school again isn’t an option for him.
And, he is committed to providing other student veterans with the support he didn’t have during his initial transition to college.
“The group’s goals are to help veterans on both campuses connect with one another and learn about all the services and resources available to them,” Rich said. “My time in the military has ended, but that doesn’t mean my service to our nation and those around me has.”
Elizabeth Fullon, a general education instructor and the club’s co-adviser, said the group provides a roadmap to financial aid information and veteran benefits, transition assistance, peer-to-peer student mentorship, camaraderie, and service and networking opportunities.
“Most veterans come to the university with leadership experience, excellent team-player skills and a first-hand understanding of what service means, Fullon said. “A veterans club can provide an environment where students can sharpen, employ and share those skills.”
The group, composed of 20 members, hopes to reach additional current students and alumni who may be veterans, and increase interest and participation in the organization.
“While in the military vets are a very tight-knit group with shared experiences, both good and bad,” Rich said. “It’s hard to lose that, and maybe even harder to find it in college. But, that is where the veterans club comes in.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:39
BOZEMAN – Montana State University has debuted a website directed at veterans. The site, which provides a full listing of services and resources at MSU for veterans utilizing a multi-media format, may be found at www.montana.edu/veteran/.
“We’re pleased with the website because not only will it reach out a lot more veterans, providing essential information in one place,” said Brenda York, director of MSU’s Office of Disability, Re-Entry and Veteran Services. “It is also a beautiful symbol of how MSU embraces veterans’ attendance at the university.”
The new website, which is a part of a recent overall redesign of MSU’s website, includes videos, interviews and information welcoming to veterans. Four videos are embedded in the page, featuring a welcome from MSU President Waded Cruzado, interviews from MSU veterans discussing veteran support services, academics and life in Bozeman.
The page was designed and produced in-house by MSU University Communications.
“It is essential that the web presence of MSU’s Veteran Services reflects the quality of their service and the importance of supporting veteran students in succeeding at Montana State University. This new website does that,” said Jake Dolan, director of MSU Web and Digital Communications.
MSU has been designated several times by several agencies as a veteran-friendly institution. York says there are about 589 veterans enrolled at MSU, a number that has risen steadily in the last five years.
In that time, MSU instituted several key services aimed at serving veterans, including opening a new veterans’ center in the basement of the SUB about five years ago.
York said MSU is proud of the reputation that it has earned as one of the most veteran-friendly campuses in the country.
“We owe it to veterans to provide them with a quality education and place to come after service,” York said. She adds that veterans are an asset to the student body at large, providing diversity that enriches the student body.
“Their experiences also enable them to provide leadership and share cultural experiences from their service,” York said. “The entire campus benefits.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:38
The Montana School Boards Association recognized 11 locally elected school board trustees at the Montana Conference of Education Leadership (MCEL) held in Billings last month.
MTSBA awards the Marvin Heintz Award annually to those trustees who have reached the pinnacle of trustee training and leadership by amassing 96 hours in the School Board Academy trustee certification program.
Trustees must have received the equivalent of 8 years certification or 96 hours of training in less than 8 years, whichever comes first. The trustees who qualify have truly shown their commitment to educational leadership. MTSBA also recognizes “Golden Gavel Award” winners – entire school boards who have attained certification in the same 12-month period.
“All school board members should be recognized for the time that they volunteer in support of the students and schools in their district,” according to Lance Melton, MTSBA executive director. “But there are several who go above and beyond as they participate in training and education of their own to make themselves and their boards better leaders,” Melton said.
“These local leaders have looked at important issues like the roles and responsibilities of school boards, how laws passed by our Legislature impacts local districts, and how important leadership is for improving student achievement,” Melton said.
The 2014 Marvin Heintz Award Recipients: Laura Creason, Pine Creek Elementary; Sydne Connolly, Plains Public Schools; Polly Icenoggle, Plains Public Schools; Caryl Cox, Polson Public Schools; Kelly Dey, Sidney Public Schools; Pat Jarvi, Whitefish Public Schools; Trudy Cassidy, Browning Public Schools; Robert Rides at the Door, Browning Public Schools; Ken Kallem, Laurel Public Schools; and Don Reed, Lockwood Elementary.
The 2014 Golden Gavel Award Recipients: Boulder Elementary; Bozeman Public Schools; Browning Public Schools; Conrad Public Schools; Frazer Public Schools; Gardiner Public Schools; Glasgow K-12 Schools; Jefferson High School; Laurel Public Schools; and Lodge Grass Public Schools.
Special recognition went to the Lockwood Elementary School Board. This is Lockwood’s 25th consecutive year of achieving the Golden Gavel Award.
Last Updated on Thursday, 06 November 2014 11:18
Montana State University Billings students, faculty, staff and Billings community members are invited to gather for Veteran’s Day to help build a medicine wheel in honor of veterans and Native American college students.
The sixth annual Medicine Wheel gathering is set for Wednesday, Nov. 12, at Noon, on the lawn between the Liberal Arts Building and the College of Education. The event is free and open to the public.
“The ceremony is both patriotic and cultural,” said Reno Charette, the director of American Indian Outreach at MSU Billings. The MSU Billings Veterans Medicine Wheel ceremony is in its sixth year serving as a reminder to all the importance of service and sacrifice.
Representing both the honoring of American Indian students as well as Montana veterans, those who participate reflect on the sacrifices other make. Participants are asked to place a rock in the medicine wheel circle to signify someone they know who has served in the military or a student who made a sacrifice to attend college.
Special guest Fred Charette, a Korean War veteran, will speak on Native American veterans this year.
Other guests include members of the American Legion Post 117, who will be there to honor Montana veterans.
“We hope all veterans and their family members to join us,” Charette said.
Charette says the wheel — which typically stays in place through December — is a symbol of the American Indian presence at the university while also providing an opportunity to recognize the cultural strength that supports the success of our students.
Last Updated on Thursday, 06 November 2014 11:17
Florence Garcia was full of angst as she packed her bag for a six-week Upward Bound summer camp at Eastern Montana College. The camp was some 300 miles away from her home in Wolf Point, and would mark the first time she had ever left home.
The shy, high school sophomore knew she was embarking on a journey that could change her life forever. At stake was a chance to be the first of her family to attend college.
That was 46 years ago—long before she became the associate dean of City College at Montana State University Billings — yet she remembers it like it was yesterday.
“Upward Bound came in at the very perfect time for me,” Garcia said, beaming while describing her experience. “I always thought high school was the finish line. But, Upward Bound changed that and opened so many doors for me in terms of experiencing the world.”
Now in its fiftieth year, Upward Bound is an outgrowth of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s War on Poverty and is one of several college access programs known as TRiO that emerged from the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 in an effort to remove barriers to access and success in post-secondary education.
In its first year, Upward Bound served 2,061 high school students with 17 pilot programs, according to the Council for Opportunity in Education. Last year, the program served about 76,000 students at more than 1,000 locations in 50 states.
Designed to build access to higher education for high school students who are low-income or first-generation, Upward Bound has opened doors for more than 2 million students.
Those doors were first opened to Garcia when her high school guidance counselor handed her the program application. She was told that if accepted, she’d join other students around the nation in preparing for college through tutoring and other academic services. She’d be required to participate in the intensive six-week residential summer camps held on the EMC campus as well participate in after-school programs in Wolf Point.
Before that pivotal day in 1967, Garcia didn’t think college was an option for her. It wasn’t because her family didn’t value education. On the contrary, the importance of education was instilled in her and her eight younger siblings at a very young age.
“Even though my mom and dad didn’t go to college, they were very intelligent people who saw how education changed lives,” Garcia said.
Her mother worked at a diner as a waitress and her father laid bricks, and they struggled to make ends meet for their nine children.
“They were very, very hard working people,” Garcia said. “We had no running water, but my mom always made a home for us no matter how tough times would get.”
And, being an American Indian woman in the 1960s was a unique challenge in and of itself, Garcia said, who is a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes.
“The home and community I come from provided me with a sense of spirit and culture, both values that are amazing gifts,” she said. “But there were also challenges that existed there, such as alcohol abuse, poverty, and health problems that affect Native people at a disproportionately higher rate.”
Despite the obstacles — or perhaps because of them — Garcia continued her high school years in Upward Bound and became the first in her family to graduate college.
Some of her Upward Bound peers went on to careers in healthcare and law. Florence Garcia became an educator.
“I loved education so much, I asked myself, ‘why not share that with others?’” she said.
She received her bachelor’s degree in 1974 in secondary education and her master’s in 1980 in special education, both degrees from what was then EMC and is now MSU Billings. She earned her doctorate in adult and higher education from Montana State University in Bozeman in 1999.
Garcia’s connection to Upward Bound never wavered. She served as TRiO Student Support Services director at both MSU and MSUB as well as at Dawson Community College during her career. In 1984, she was named a National TRiO Achiever.
“It’s a small program that does really big things,” she said. “It impacts people far beyond data and numbers.”
There are five Upward Bound programs statewide and roughly 400 students served each year. Of those, MSU Billings serves 75.
That is down from nine programs just two years ago following a 5 percent federal budget cut, resulting in loss of services to 245 students in 20 high schools, 28 percent of whom are Native Americans.
The decision to limit funding was clearly not based on Upward Bound’s effectiveness as a program. In fact, the Education Department’s data have shown that more than 75 percent of all students who participate in Upward Bound programs go on to college after high school.
“Unfortunately, the program only serves about 6 percent of the eligible population,” MSUB Upward Bound Director Dan Benge said. “But we do a lot with the resources we have and are a good return on the investment.”
Benge said Upward Bound students are 50 percent more likely to attain a bachelor’s degree than their counterparts. And some, like Garcia, go on to graduate programs, he said.
“I’m sure I would not be here if it weren’t for Upward Bound,” she said. “In fact, I might not be here at all.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 11:03
Craig Beals has a message to deliver: “Those who can, teach.”
Beals himself is a case in point. He has done scientific research all over the world, from Belize, Mongolia, Greenland, Borneo and Africa to Montana.
He could work in many scientific fields, but what fascinates him most is the science of teaching. He wants people to know that teachers are top-notch professionals in their fields who have chosen to devote their lives to young people.
Beals will get a chance to deliver that message across Montana and America in the coming year. He was chosen in September as the 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year.
“I’m just absolutely thrilled, overwhelmed, and humbled,” said the Billings science teacher. “I’m so honored that I get to show the public the amazing things going on in public schools across Montana.”
Each year, the Montana Teacher of the Year program recognizes a teacher who personifies the best in the teaching profession. The program is sponsored and administered by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, based in Helena.
Beals teaches earth science and chemistry in grades 9-12 at Billings Senior High School. He says his goal as a teacher is to inspire students to explore science and enjoy the world around them. He makes science “accessible and fun,” said Dan Bartsch, chairman of the science department at Billings Senior.
For example, Beals inspired his students to design and build the largest cardboard geodesic dome planetarium in the world, which was featured in a national journal. Hundreds of high school and elementary students view it every year and learn about geometry and astronomy.
He created a chemistry module called “The Chemistry of Coffee” to inspire students to connect to chemistry in a tangible way. They explored the chemistry of coffee by roasting raw green beans, controlling variables, collecting data, and tasting their results.
Beal has inspired hundreds of students to develop inquiry-based independent study projects, exploring and collecting data on anything that interests them and presenting results at a community showcase.
Community outreach: Beals believes in getting his students involved in their community. For example, he created the Earth Science Community Action ProjEct (ESCAPE), where students use their science skills to help the Billings community. His students have helped improve local parks, recommended new zoning, and contributed valuable water quality data to a national database for scientific research.
“With each connection to the community I watch adult perceptions of our young people improve, and I see my students’ appreciation of the community expand,” he said. “Everyone benefits from strong community ties.”
“Students love his classes because they are treated like individuals,” said Bartsch. “And they work exceptionally hard for him because he gets them to believe not only in the process of scientific exploration, but in themselves as well.”
Beals believes building strong relationships between teachers and students is key to student success. “It’s not in the job description, but it’s one of the most important things a teacher can do,” he said. Listening to students, asking how they are – “those little things can change the culture of the classroom, change the culture of the school. We can’t do enough of it,” he said.
Showing compassion is “the opposite of being ‘soft,’” Beals said. “Students actually rise to higher expectations.” Beals recently was selected to give a TED talk about the power of student-teacher connections at TEDxBozeman.
Beals shares his innovative teaching techniques with other teachers around Montana, the nation, and even the world through workshops and presentations. He teaches graduate courses for Miami University in Ohio, taking educators to conservation hot spots around the globe, where he shows them how to implement research and inquiry-based education into their classrooms.
A Billings native, Beals earned a master’s degree in zoology at Miami University in Ohio and bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Broadfield Science from Montana State University.
Beals’ wife works at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch. They have a 3-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.
As Montana’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, Beals will serve as an ambassador for public education, represent Montana in the National Teacher of the Year program, and attend numerous national events along with the other state teachers of the year.
“He’ll be a fantastic representative for educators,” said Anna Baldwin of Arlee, the 2014 Montana Teacher of the Year.
Baldwin, who had the honor of giving Beals the good news about his selection, said, “It’s so exciting to watch someone so capable and enthusiastic go into this process knowing how much he’ll grow and learn during the year.”
Teachers nominated to be Montana Teacher of the Year undergo an exhaustive application process. Three finalists are chosen for interviews. This year’s interview committee included representatives from the Office of Public Instruction, School Administrators of Montana, two educators, a parent and a high school student.
Finalists in the 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year event are Casey Olsen, an English teacher at Columbus High School; and Tony Riehl, a math teacher at Skyview High School in Billings.
All three were honored at a gala celebration Oct. 16 in Missoula. The Montana Professional Teaching Foundation sponsors the celebration in conjunction with the annual MEA-MFT Educators’ Conference.
The Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, based in Helena, works to enhance the teaching profession and promote quality education in Montana.
The Montana Teacher of the Year program is one of several projects sponsored by the foundation. Others include:
* Karen Cox Memorial Grants to help teachers who pay for classroom resources out of their own pockets.
* National Board Certification & Candidate Support.
* Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics & Science Teaching.
* Jim McGarvey Scholarships.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 21:31
BOZEMAN – Telephone scammers targeting students at Montana State University-Bozeman, the University of Montana-Missoula and nationally are telling students they must pay a fine immediately by giving payment information over the phone or they will be arrested by the Montana State University-Bozeman Police Department.
“MSU-Bozeman Police does not conduct business this way,” said MSU-Bozeman Police Chief Robert Putzke. “Any students receiving such a call should not share any personal or financial information with the caller and should call legitimate law enforcement immediately.”
The scammers are predominantly calling foreign students on the University of Montana-Missoula campus, but students at MSU-Bozeman, Penn State and in Georgia and Tennessee have also received calls.
The scam is particularly devious because the caller ID on victims’ telephones shows the MSU-Bozeman Police number. This is known as “caller ID spoofing” and occurs outside of the university system’s technological control.
More than 40 students reported the scam within the span of a few hours last month.
Students report the caller sounds like he is calling from a call center as there are other voices in the background. Students have been told a variety of things: they owe back taxes, have an overdue tuition bill, or a fine and if they do not pay they will be suspended from school, deported, or arrested.
Students receiving such calls are urged to call law enforcement on the MSU-Bozeman, UM-Missoula, and MSU Billings campuses. MSU-Bozeman Police can be reached at (406) 994-2121.
UM-Missoula Police can be reached at 406-243-6131. MSU-Billings Police can be reached at 406-657-2147.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 21:30
If you want to hear author Sherman Alexie speak next week at Rocky Mountain College, Steve Germic suggests you get there early.
Germic, an associate professor of English who is helping organize the event, said there is likely to be a full house, even though the speech will be in the biggest indoor space on campus, the gymnasium of the Fortin Education Center.
If you were to ask young readers in the United States who their favorite author is, he said, “I don’t know who would be in second place. He is the guy.”
The free event will start at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, followed by a book signing.
Alexie’s appearance is part of this year’s Common Read, in which virtually all Rocky freshmen, and a good many upperclassmen, read the same book. The 2014 selection is Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”
Published in 2007, the novel has been widely acclaimed and frequently banned, both for its coarse language and its frank portrayal of sexual matters. The book was in the headlines locally last year, after a parent complained about its inclusion on the required reading list for School District 2 high schools.
After a hearing that attracted hundreds of people — many of them high-schoolers who passionately defended “The Absolutely True Diary” — trustees voted to keep the book on the required reading list but to make some changes to the district’s procedures for opting out.
Germic said the controversy “was certainly a part of the discussion” when a selection committee met early this year to pick the 2014 Common Read. It probably helped in another way, too, he said.
“We suspect that it was the controversy here locally that was an important factor in Sherman Alexie’s choosing to come,” Germic said.
It was also Alexie’s availability that determined the date of the speech, Germic said. It was just a coincidence that the event takes place during the High Plains BookFest, which opens with a poetry slam Oct. 22 and continues with readings, panel discussions and other events Oct. 24-26.
“The Absolutely True Diary” was suggested as the Common Read by Jacquee Dundas, an associate professor of English who was on the selection committee. The group started out with 14 nominated books, which were reviewed based on the availability of the authors, the books’ appropriateness for a wide audience and disciplinary range.
That last consideration is important, Germic said, because it influences the decision of professors in various departments to assign the book to their students. Alexie’s book is being read in a chemistry class, for instance, at the suggestion of a department researcher who has worked on substance abuse issues, which are addressed in the book.
Germic said he has taught several of Alexie’s books over the years, including “Reservation Blues,” “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” and “Fancy Dancing,” Alexie’s first book of poetry and Germic’s favorite by the author.
Alexie, a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Indian, grew up in Willpinit, Wash., on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Since 1984, he has written 24 books. He has also won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
In addition to the classroom discussions of the book and next week’s reading, the school sponsors an essay contest with a first-place prize of $500.
Germic, who has seen Alexie speak, described him as “a compelling personality” whose ability to win over an audience “through sheer charisma is quite impressive.”
Rocky hasn’t publicized the speech much, Germic said, but “this event advertised and promoted itself.” High school teachers from all over the region have called to ask about bringing students to the event, he said, including a busload of students from Cody, Wyo.
That’s why’s he’s advising people to arrive early. The floor of the gymnasium will be reserved for ticketed members of the RMC community. The bleachers will be open for general admission.
Alexie will take questions after his talk, Germic said, but they will be questions posed by students and vetted by their instructors.
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 October 2014 12:55